© ATTA / Matt Corliss - AdventureELEVATE North America

Being Bold Now: Why Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone is the Key to Unlocking Greater Community, Service, and Leadership

2 July 2024

In June 2024, 280 delegates from 37 countries around the world gathered in Asheville, North Carolina for AdventureELEVATE North America to shape the deeply rooted, ever-growing adventure travel industry. Together, we shared stories, bonded by roasting s’mores over an open flame, listened to keynote speakers who left us inspired, found harmony with the Blue Ridge Mountains, and created innovative ways to move business forward. To say the least, the theme – Boldy Flowing – was encapsulated in every aspect of ELEVATE, but what does it mean in comparison to the larger travel industry? 

Bold is defined as being adventurous, fearless before danger, and standing out prominently. It’s an adjective, but it’s also so much more, especially when you add the word “flowing.” Rivers typically flow south, but the French Broad River in Asheville boldly flows north, illustrating that going against the grain can also facilitate harmony at large.  

“Life starts when you step outside your comfort zone,” explained Jeff Jenkins, the founder of Chubby Diaries and award-winning host of the National Geographic Channel, Never Say Never.When you don’t step out of your comfort zone, you won't find the places and things you really love,” he added. For Jenkins, he began questioning his nine-year choir teaching career following the death of his stepfather. After careful consideration, he resigned from the position, and joined a mission trip to Rwanda where he co-founded the Amazi Project with friends to help bring sustainable water wells to the community. Reflecting on the bigger questions surrounding passion and purpose is what drove Jenkins to pivot. It was being bold now.

In the United States, there has historically been a lack of Black representation in the travel industry. A 2019 study from MMGY Travel Intelligence reported that Black U.S. travelers spent $109.4 billion dollars on travel and represent 13.1% of the leisure travel market for the U.S (per Black Travel Alliance). This also translates to adventure and outdoor travel. For instance, national park travel is overwhelmingly white, with only 23% of travelers from the BIPOC community, according to a 2020 survey from the National Park Service. Seeing this lack of representation, it became clear to Jenkins what he wanted – to diversity the outdoor travel space. 

“When people see themselves represented they go out there and do it too,” Jenkins shared during his opening keynote. In other words, being bold is infectious. The more a person embodies it, the more it gives others the permission that they, too, can be courageous in whatever situation they choose. Throughout the event, delegates felt this spirit of Boldly Flowing in several different ways, but three facets in particular were the springboards to how stepping outside your comfort zone can unlock greatness for yourself and others.


This year marks the ATTA’s 20 year anniversary under CEO Shannon Stowell’s leadership, and both the adventure travel community at large and organization couldn’t be more thrilled to celebrate this huge milestone. Boldness must have been at the forefront of this journey as together, we have fostered a community for adventure and sustainable travel businesses, created spaces for individuals to develop long-lasting relationships, and developed opportunities to connect potential partners. 

In total, there were 1,040 meetings and 782 Marketplace tables held throughout AdventureELEVATE North America 2024. This doesn’t include any impromptu meetings that were a result of connecting during the Day of Adventure in the charming city of Asheville or chatting with a new colleague during a coffee break. “It’s so hard to choose just one highlight,” shared Russell Walters, ATTA Regional Director of North America. “It was wonderful to experience the warm welcome in-person from the community, the creative culture, and the variety of foods in Asheville. It's truly an ideal hub to explore the surrounding regions,” he said. 

This was Jenkins’ first event with ATTA, and immediately after spending the evening with the media delegates the day before the Welcome Reception occurred, he told me, “these are my people.”  This was one more powerful testament that being bold can also champion building community. 

© ATTA / Matt Corliss - AdventureELEVATE North America


Service is the next key to unlocking greater boldness in your business and life. It can relieve the pressure of focusing on the bottom line, allowing for more focus on the greater good and community. Jenkins used this exact formula to skyrocket his success. When it comes to business, Jenkins explained, “I think about others. If it was just me doing it for myself, I probably would have stopped doing it or I would have never tried to do it. But me making it about others gives me that energy and that motivation to actually see if I could do it or not.” Making service the forefront of your business is an exceptional way to challenge yourself to be bold.

Leading with service is also what guided Explore Asheville to start the Riverside Park Expansion Project. The goal of this $29.9 million project is to improve the ecology of the area, by adding new park amenities, expanding the greenway, and building a rock ledge against the French Broad River for more thrilling water-based activities. 


Being bold goes hand in hand with leadership, and leadership begins with knowing who, what, and how you serve. During multiple experiential outdoor sessions, delegates gathered in a circle at Pack’s Square Park for a moment of rumination and introspection around marrying “playing with purpose” with leadership. 

“Are you living and leading in alignment with what’s most important?” asked Dr. Mark Gasta, expert leadership coach and professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, as he peered around at the group. Having a strong internal compass is one of the foundational parts of being a leader and is equally important when it comes to stepping outside of your comfort zone. This insightful question gives more guiding light to the direction of your business, your legacy, and how you can serve on a bigger scale.

As the session came to a close, one of the biggest takeaways a delegate shared was that, “leading with empathy can help create community and an environment of success for others.” Being empathetic and cultivating a space for growth and success requires boldness and leadership. It’s what makes Asheville, uniquely Asheville: an ever-evolving destination that celebrates the LGBTQ+ community, Black-owned businesses, and local neighborhood communities.  

© ATTA / Matt Corliss - AdventureELEVATE North America
Harmony with nature, community, and oneself 

While community, service, and leadership are just some of the key traits and characteristic boldness can unlock, harmony ties the knot of this powerful trifecta. Just like the French Broad River uses harmony with its surrounding as its perimeter, we too must use the counsel of harmony as a hub for building togetherness in the adventure travel community. 

“My second highlight was witnessing the broad interest from around the globe with 37 countries represented and the large percentage of first time delegates who all seemed very values driven and aligned with the ATTA's mission,” Walters shared. “It gave me a true sense that we are not alone.” 

This harmony with nature, community, and values illustrates that together we are stronger than ever, boldly flowing as we collaboratively move the needle forward in the constantly evolving adventure travel community.  

Ready to join us? Next year, the adventure travel community will be heading to Denver for AdventureELEVATE North America 2025. Learn more and stay up to date by visiting the events page